Des Syme was a fresh-faced 16-year-old when he joined the Alford Forest Rural Fire Force and 62 years on he’s still a fire volunteer.
Now approaching his 79th birthday, he has no intentions of hanging up his fire gear.
Since 1995 he’s been part of the Lauriston force and enjoys the camaraderie.
The brigade helps bring the community together, he says.
“We’ve got 22 or 23 at Lauriston at the moment, including two women, and they’re mostly farm people or people working in the rural sector.
“For me, the force is about rural folk supporting other rural folk.”
Des, who still lends son Nigel a hand with his silage business, is not as active as he used to be, but makes some of the 50 callouts typically received at Lauriston every year.
His first ever callout as a teenager was to a fire in the north branch of the Ashburton River.
“I remember we had trouble keeping up with the speed of it and we struggled to pump water out of the creek to control it.
“I learnt early on that you can’t always beat a fire and sometimes you just have to watch it and keep a close eye on it.”
In those early days Des was working for Bob Whiteman at Staveley and was the young gun in the newly-formed Alford Forest force, which also included Trevor Grigg.
“We had a pump on a trailer and couple of hoses and there was no source for carting water.
“Back then, I think there was just one tanker in Ashburton and another at Methven.”
Things are much more sophisticated today and there are radios for contact and fire volunteers are alerted by an app on their phone, he says.
The biggest fire Des remembers was one that was swept by the wind down the river at Mt Somers a number of years ago and burnt for a few days.
He says more rules and regulations have steadily been introduced over the years and there is a strong emphasis on health and safety, which is a good thing, and also on medical training for firefighters.
“You can’t just get on with it like we used to have to do in the old days.”
Des said no-one on his watch had ever been hurt in the line of duty.
The former Springburn School and Methven High pupil has been acknowledged on multiple occasions over the years for his long and loyal brigade service.
He is rightly proud of his service record and displays his service badges and trophies at home.
Another big part of his Des’s life has been his involvement with an old time music band, which he still occasionally plays with.
Des has been a drummer from the age of 12 and his fellow band members have included the likes of his brother John, Jim Harmer, Jean Greenslade and Rex Cochrane.
Des has three children and four grandchildren and has been married to Kaye for 57 years.